Why A New Federal Grand Jury Should Be Convened in the Firefighters Case
My son, Richard Wayne Brown, and four other people were convicted in 1997 of causing the construction site explosion that tragically killed six Kansas City firefighters on November 29, 1988. Richard and his co-defendants were sentenced to “ life without the possibility of parole.” None of the five people convicted had a single thing to do with the explosion.
Richard’s co-defendants were Darlene Edwards, Frank Sheppard, Earl “Skip” Sheppard, and Bryan Sheppard. (Skip died in prison in 2009). Bryan was and remains Richard’s best friend. Both Richard and Bryan were teenagers. They avoided Frank and Skip Sheppard, who were 20 and 10 years older respectively, like the plague. To say that these young boys would have had anything to do with Frank and Skip Sheppard – much less to commit a crime with them – is to know nothing about them. Other than traffic tickets, Richard had a completely clean record. Bryan had once been arrested for stealing a bicycle.
For eight years the government investigation focused on the involvement of Kansas City labor unions in the blast. That direction took a sharp, tragic turn when the ATF took over control of the case from the U.S. Labor Department in 1994. Special Agent Dave True, who was nearing retirement but did not want to leave with the biggest case of his career still unsolved, decided to stir the pot by having the ATF offer a $50,000 reward to anyone who would give information resulting in the conviction of those responsible for the explosion that killed the firefighters. Posters announcing the reward were displayed in Missouri and Kansas prisons and jails and on overpasses in the Marlborough neighborhood, an impoverished area near the construction site where Richard and the other defendants lived.
Between 60 and 70 convicts contacted the ATF. No two convicts would tell the same story or name the same cast of perpetrators. The same was true of all the numerous neighborhood witnesses who came forward. Despite this host of informers naming dozens of potential perpetrators, Agent True eventually focused the investigation exclusively on the five who ended up being convicted.
Richard and the others were convicted because they were expendable and the ATF wanted this case closed after eight futile years of investigation. The trial set a record in the annals of U.S. prosecution for the government’s use of felon testimony against the defendants. Twenty-four of the 59 prosecution witnesses had a total of 76 felony convictions. A vast majority of the government witnesses shared in the $50,000 reward.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Becker, who prosecuted the case, knew that no two of the government’s witnesses ever named the eventual five defendants as the perpetrators. Becker knew, in fact, that these witnesses had named dozens of other potential perpetrators in the stories they told, linking these many others to one or more of the eventual defendants. As The Kansas City Star reported on June 29, 2008, “Becker acknowledged his case was built in part on questionable witnesses who often gave contradictory testimony.”
Becker also knew that Richard and the other defendants had solid alibis; that Richard, Bryan and Frank had passed polygraph tests and that Darlene had begged Agent True to give her a polygraph, which he refused to do.
None of the five defendants ever requested legal representation during the numerous police and ATF interviews they were subjected to over the years leading up to their indictments. None ever invoked his or her 5th Amendment right to remain silent. None of the five was willing to turn state’s evidence for a significantly reduced sentence, despite repeated offers by the government pre-trial, during the trial and at the end of the guilt-phase of the trial.
Saddest of all is how Agent True stacked the case against Richard and the others by using various methods to coerce witnesses to testify falsely. According to a June 29, 2008 front-page article in The Kansas City Star, written by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Mike McGraw, 15 witnesses said that Agent True had pressured them to lie. Five of those admitted they lied in the federal grand jury that indicted the defendants or later at their trial. As a result of this article, the then U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, John F. Wood, asked the U.S. Justice Department to name an independent investigator to examine the claims made against Agent True “in a thorough and unbiased manner.”
Over two years later, in July of 2011, the Justice Department whitewashed Agent True’s tactics but named two other perpetrators who were not indicted. The names of the other two perpetrators were redacted – not released to the public – and no action of any sort has been taken to bring them to justice. I firmly believe that if these two individuals were indicted that the case against Richard and the others would collapse and be proven to be the railroading job it was. I therefore ask you to please sign this petition to demand that the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Tammy Dickinson, convene a grand jury to investigate these two named perpetrators.
Not just my family, but the families of the killed firefighters deserve that justice finally be served by bringing the real perpetrators to account.
Please sign this petition to request a new Federal Grand Jury to investigate the two suspects names that were redacted (not released to the public) and take action to investigate them and prosecute them if warranted. As a dual purpose for this petition, please agree that it is very evident that the remaining four people that were wrongfully convicted should be released, and the grand jury should take the proper steps that will allow them to resume their lives. Keeping them in prison is only compounding the terrible injustice to four wrongfully incarcerated people that were considered “expendable.”
The horrible, unconscionable fact is that the “K C Firefighter case” is the worst tragedy for everyone involved; not only the brave firefighters that lost their lives, but also for the 5 people that were sent to their doom. The residue leaves children without their fathers, families without their sons, and 5 person’s lives cruelly interrupted at the peak of their youth. This awful miscarriage of justice has caused so much damage to the innocent victims; it has affectively ended their lives as they knew it. It has snow-balled to gargantuan proportions. Let’s participate in righting the wrong that was perpetrated and allowed to continue.
This is a small thing to do to help right a huge wrong.
Thank you for your support,
If you would like to correspond with Richard, his contact information is: Richard Wayne Brown, Federal Bureau of Prisons ID 08718-045, Coleman 1 USP, P O Box 1033, Coleman, FL. 33521.